This Tragic Glass by Elizabeth Bear

18586183Source: Own collection
Format: Hardback
Rating:  3 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

This short story is about Christopher Marlowe, the playwrite. The majority of the setting, however, is in the future – 2117 to be precise. Satyavati is trying to get a grant for her research into determining the gender – the biological, chromosomal birth gender – of the author from an analysis of the writings of the author. The issue that comes up is the gender of Christopher, or Kit, Marlowe. The “software” says that he is a she. To confirm one way or another (in order to validate the software), a mission is undertaken by the department (headed up by one John Keats – yes, the poet himself) to retrieve Kit before he/she is murdered.

The whole discussion of gender identity is not one I wish to enter into in a book review. Neither the discussion itself, nor my own views on the matter. Suffice it to say that the author’s stated intention (which was contained in a Note attached to the story as published in The Time Traveller’s Almanac) with this short story is to argue that a person’s identity is what THEY say it is – it should not be subjected to public speculation or ‘proofs’.

This short story was a nice enough read. At times I found it quite sophisticated, and struggled to keep track of trains of thought or reasoning (and yes, I am used to reading academic and legal texts, so I think there honestly were a few gaps). The writing is vivid enough to put one into the story quite easily. But I had to pause every now and then to figure something out, or go back and check on something. Perhaps if I’d known more of Christopher/Kit Marlowe going in, it may well have helped a lot. No matter.

With regards to the effects of time travel, I did find this an interesting observation in the story. I enjoyed John Keats and Marlowe, and how they interacted with and got used to their new surroundings. To say these two individuals had mettle, for sure. It can’t be easy leaping forward centuries into a totally foreign environment.


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